In battle for the beach, invasive dune grass must die!

The Pacific Rim National Park’s war on invasive dune grass wages on.

Invasive dune grass populations from America and Europe have robbed BC of about 95 per cent of its sand dune ecosystems since arriving around 1930, according to the Park’s dune project manager Mike Collyer.

The grasses wreak havoc by growing in thick patches and preventing sand from circulating through coastal sand ecosystems that depend on sand circulation to survive.

With sand unable to flow to the back of the dunes, not only are the species that need it threatened, but other species, like Sitka Spruce and Salal, are able to thrive and encroach through the dunes’ backdoor potentially taking over the neighborhood.

Considering these ecosystems are already rare in BC, the species that rely on these ecosystems are rare and at risk, according to Collyer. One of these species is the pink sand verbena, which was thought to be extinct in Canada until being rediscovered on the West Coast Trail in 2000.

“The wheels of our species at risk national program got moving and as a result the strategy to try to recover the species in Canada was developed and that strategy involved trying to establish three persistent populations,” Collyer said.

He said Long Beach was pegged for two pink sand verbena populations with 760 planted at the Wickaninnish Sand Dunes and about 200 at Schooner Cove.

“We’ve been doing work both to restore the habitats in those areas to support the plants as well as growing the plants and planting them out to those locations,” he said.

“Compared to the two plants that we had 10 years ago in Canada, now we have thousands of plants, that’s where we’re getting to with the recovery of that species.”

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation has also been involved and was contracted by the Park to help remove invasive grasses from

Schooner Cove this summer, according to Collyer.

“They’ve done a great job removing grasses from most of the back of the dune,” he said.

“It’s a huge area, about 6,000 sq. metres is what they will have completed by the end of their contract sometime later this fall.”

Collyer and the Park’s Dune restoration research technician Kaylyn Kwasnecha welcomed two volunteers to a dune grass removal event at Schooner Cove on Sunday.

“The plant needs a home and with invasive grasses growing in its home it couldn’t grow and the invasive grasses also cause the forest to start growing into its home,” he said.

“To reverse that process, we’re pulling the invasive grasses to allow the sand to flow back into the dunes and keep that area open and in a natural state and to be a home for those rare species.”

Along with the importance of conserving the area and creating an environment for species like

the pink sand verbena to thrive, Collyer said volunteer events are an important tool for engaging the public.

“There’s also importance in the intrinsic thing of getting Canadians, and visitors to the country, to appreciate the natural history and the beauty of these special places,” he said.

Volunteers will take on a more vital role in the park’s restoration efforts as other resources are winding down.

“We’ve had special resources to do this project for the last five year, going forward we’re not going to have those resources anymore and one of the things we want to do is try to engage visitors and local people in helping us maintain the areas that we’ve restored,” Collyer said.

He added volunteers benefit from taking it all in.

“It provides them with some background in the natural history of the area and people tend to like that,” he said. “It’s like coming out for a live Discovery Network

show.” UVic student Rebecca Humphrey was stoked on the opportunity to assist and learn more about the West Coast’s geography.

“I might potentially work for Parks one day and I’m trying to get some hands on field work,” she said. “I see my career being outdoors and working to preserve nature so it feels good to be doing some hands on work to get me started on my path.”

She said she enjoyed volunteering within

Schooner’s naturally beautiful landscape.

“I’ve learned a lot today about sand dune ecosystems and what’s going on with these grasses and why we’re pulling them,” she said.

Tofino local Janna Briggs-Anderson also volunteered to pull grass from the sand.

Briggs-Anderson is a horticulturist interested in the ecosystem’s variety of plant species.

“It’s Sunday and it’s beautiful out here it’s nice to get out on the dunes,” she said. “I am definitely having fun.”

Dune restoration research technician Kaylyn Kwasnecha said the work is important and connects volunteers to natural hidden gems.

“This is a very rare and fragile ecosystem and nobody really knows it’s here,” she said, “People notice all the beaches and the surf but sand dunes are something hidden; they’re a real treasure that I think we should cherish and protect.”

reporter@westerlynews. ca